PermissionTV Reinvents Itself as VisibleGains, Offers Interactive Video for Sales and Marketing

10/7/09Follow @wroush

Sometimes, you need to keep the diamond and replace the ring. That’s how Cliff Pollan, recruited in March to be president and CEO of Waltham, MA-based VisibleGains, describes the process his company has been through over the last six months.

In this case, the company has kept its core technology, an interactive video engine that lets users plot their own path through a selection of online videos. But it has replaced almost everything else. That includes its old name (PermissionTV), its old CEO (Bob Lentz), and its old business model. The old plan was to build interactive sites for customers with a wealth of video to share, such as Bob Vila, the Boston Pops, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic.

When I last wrote about the company in July 2008, it had just released a development kit intended to allow Web publishers to build their own complex, video-driven sites similar to this one from Intercontinental Hotels, and had recently raised $3 million from BlueCrest Capital Finance, bringing its total funding to some $18 million. But that software kit, and the one-off sites PermissionTV was building as a service for its high-profile clients, just weren’t taking off as intended, Pollan told me in an interview yesterday.

VisibleGains' CEO Cliff Pollan“We were getting wonderful feedback from clients about the experience, but it wasn’t clear that media companies or large consumer brands would get that level of value out of what we were building,” Pollan says. “So we felt after a bunch of research and talking to a lot of people and potential customers that the business-to-business space was the place where interactive video—which you can use to tell a great story—was an appropriate technology.”

In short, while PermissionTV’s interactive videos wowed everyone who saw them, the people who really cared enough to pay for the technology were sales and marketing executives. Hence the overhaul of the company’s technology platform (it’s now an entirely cloud-based, Software as a Service offering) and today’s rebranding of the company as VisibleGains.The name refers to video’s purported ability to increase “conversions,” or the number of visitors to a company’s website who become actual customers.

To fund the relaunch, the company has raised more capital from existing investors Point Judith Capital and Castile Ventures, but it hasn’t said yet how much.

To understand what VisibleGains’ customers can build using the technology, think “Choose Your Own Adventure” meets SalesForce.com. The platform is designed to help sales teams assemble short videos (a minute or so each) into what Pollan calls “buyer-led” conversations that can go down one path or another depending on what the viewer is interested in.

Say, for example, your company makes plastic forks. After showing a site visitor a short introductory video, you can ask whether he or she is a consumer looking for the best brand of picnic ware, a restaurant buyer searching for a new supplier, or perhaps the CEO of a plastic spoon company interested in a strategic utensil alliance. The VisibleGains platform will instantly play the appropriate video, which will end either with more choices or with a form that the viewer can fill out to request more information.

A video starring Pollan on the VisibleGains home page provides a hands-on demonstration of the whole process. By the way, the company’s platform is literally integrated with SalesForce.com: form data that viewers enter into the video interface gets saved in a SalesForce database, along with information about which segments they watched.

VisibleGains designed its system to make it as easy as possible for sales and marketing staff—who, after all, rarely have training in video production or editing—to figure out which segments they’ll need in order to create an effective “conversation map,” as the company refers to a finished collection of videos.

To build the platform, “We went through a process of rethinking how video is produced and created,” says Matt Kaplan, VisibleGains’ vice president of marketing and chief strategy officer. “We help you create 60-second pieces of content and piece them together by understanding the nature of the conversation you want to have with your intended buyer.”

In the past, only the largest companies have been able to afford this kind of video-based sales material. So in a sense, VisibleGains is helping sales teams take on a creative function traditionally handled by outside marketing and advertising agencies with interactive divisions (of which there are many around Boston). Pollan says VisibleGains is targeting medium-sized companies, those with $20 million to $1 billion in annual revenues that have never worked with agencies.

But while the software helps sales teams create content, it also analyzes how viewers use it, so corporate marketing teams can continuously evaluate which parts of the conversation map are working and replace or improve the parts that seem to be sales dead-ends. The upshot can be a Web experience that’s far more powerful than a typical text-driven site, Pollan and Kaplan assert. In one three-month-long test of the new platform, an insurance company in the U.K., Blyth Valley, served up two separate websites to visitors—half saw the normal non-video site and half saw the VisibleGains videos. Only 1.7 percent of visitors to the non-video site completed a purchase, according to a VisibleGains white paper, but 4.2 percent of visitors who saw the video version did—and they spent an average of 13 percent more.

“Describing a product and being able to use sight, sound, and motion to do that creates a much more engaging experience,” says Pollan, who joined VisibleGains after a long career at push financial news provider NewsEdge, which was acquired by Thomson Reuters in 2001. And it’s cheap and easy enough to shoot professional-looking video nowadays that anyone can do it, he says. “Years ago we all learned how to stand up and give PowerPoint presentations. We’ve all learned how to do webinars. The next phase of communication is video. It’s going to become a skill of people within a company, just like some people have learned to blog.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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